Leadership and Life Lessons
By Ben Finzel, President, RENEWPR
“To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing.” I wrote those words last fall when the PRSA National Capital Chapter inducted me into the Hall of Fame. I was shocked to be included in such inspiring company (including my co-honoree Kate Perrin). But what I’ve realized since then could be an addendum to my earlier comments: “To understand why you are being honored is to realize that with recognition comes an ongoing responsibility.”
Leadership is about many things – courage, perspective, listening, experience, diligence – and it is predicated on the idea that leaders must be doers. I’ve done a fair amount of work over the past 3+ decades. But I also know that I have more to do. And some of that work must be in service of others. Over the years, I’ve volunteered my time and effort and resources as a Board member for organizations like the LGBT Victory Fund and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. And I’ve collaborated with colleagues to advocate for equal benefits for staff (at Edelman) and to build out the first global LGBTQ communications practice at a global firm (at FleishmanHillard). More recently, I started a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals in the DC area (DC Family Communicators).
RENEWPR is focused on energy, environment and equity. Increasingly, those topics are intertwined as companies, advocates and organizations realize that addressing challenges like climate change, clean air and public lands protection won’t be successful without realizing that we all need to be part of the conversation. We take the approach that collaboration is the key to achieving lasting results and we focus our work in the “middle”, where people from different backgrounds can find common ground on policy and practice and work together to effect positive change.
That approach isn’t accidental. It’s based on observing decades of dysfunction in our politics along with the bright spots over the years that have given us policies and regulations that have made a positive difference not just for some, but for many. And it’s based on my lived experience as a DC native who grew up in the city and then moved to Houston, Texas for high school and to Lubbock, Texas for college. These experiences gave me a practical sense for how to work with others from differing backgrounds and how to find the common ground necessary to solve problems. I didn’t know it then, but it was a terrific life lesson for my career.
Since starting RENEWPR seven years ago, I’ve focused on two things: my community and my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Both are part of my makeup and my motivation. And both have been important to the growth and success of my firm and the launch of The Change Agencies – the first and only national network of multicultural and LGBTQ PR firms I started with five colleagues in 2019. Now, as I look towards the next seven years and think back on the past 30+, I’m considering ways not just to give back, but to do so in service of advancing our profession.
One of those things will be creating a new endowed scholarship at my alma mater, Texas Tech University, to help the next LGBTQ students who want to build their careers (maybe even in PR?) but who need a little help (as I did) to get there. I’m excited to get started with the first scholarship, which will be awarded this fall through the Texas Tech Alumni Association.
Recognition is helpful when it fuels a desire to keep going, to keep giving and to keep helping. At least that’s how I see it. And that’s how I’m using the inspiration of the Hall of Fame honor the NCC has bestowed on me to move forward. I’m fortunate to have had a lot of help and encouragement along the way and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to put some of that spirit out into the world to help the next generation of leaders.
Thank you PRSA NCC for reminding me of the awesome responsibility of leadership and for the inspiration to keep going, keep giving and keep helping.
Ben Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a communications consulting firm in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the National Capital Chapter of PRSA and a member of the Executive Committee of the PRSA Counselors Academy. Visit the website to learn more: www.renewpr.com.